I’m back in body (after a more or less sleepless night and a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride), but my spirit is weak, so for the moment I’ll just pass along this enjoyable word dug out of the recesses of the OED by aldiboronti at

twiffler, n.
Now Hist.
[ad. Du. twijfelaar something intermediate between two types (also as below), f. twijfelen be unsure, vacillate.]
A plate or shallow dish intermediate in size between a dessert plate and a dinner plate.

It is, of course, related to German Zweifel ‘doubt’ and has as its root the number twij twee, zwei, two.

And for lagniappe: Referees Brush Up on Curses in 17 Languages (for the World Cup).


  1. I am considering whether to use “twiffler” in a modified sense, to mean someone who hesitates to eat what’s been put on his plate, under the pretence that the plate is not the right size. In other words, a consequences pussy.

  2. The Modern Dutch word for ‘two’ is ‘twee’, not *twij. The verb twijfelen comes from Middle Dutch twîvelen/twîfelen. In Middle Dutch there were two major variants for ‘two’: ‘twee’ and ‘twie’ (which I suppose is a variant spelling form of *twî), of which only the first has survived in Modern Dutch.

  3. Is there, or would there be, a pronunciation difference between twij & twee?

  4. If we want to be linguistically topical, how about a post on “vuvuzela”?

  5. The Modern Dutch word for ‘two’ is ‘twee’
    Fixed. See, that’s what I get for trying to post while sleepless.

  6. dearieme says

    Though “twij” is how I pronounced “two” as a bairn. Yin, twij, thrij, fower… What I’m damned if I can remember is how we pronounced “eight” – not “echt”, because when I first heard that in the Stewartry I was astonished.

  7. Well, fair enough then.

  8. I propose a back formation for English – “twiffle’ – because it makes doubt sound like piffle. I also like the use of “twiffler” for someone who dithers over food.

  9. If we want to be linguistically topical, how about a post on “vuvuzela”?
    Well, from a pragmatic point of view, it would probably degenerate into a parade of complaints about the damn things, which (while I share the sentiment) would get kind of boring, and from a linguistic point of view, there’s nothing much to say about the word until someone comes up with more information than “it’s a Zulu word.” It’s been covered at the Log, to the extent there’s anything to cover; Mark sums it up in his response at this comment:

    But how did “vuvuzela” originate in Zulu? Is an arbitrary coinage? A metaphor? A compound? These are the interesting questions.

    I like etymology, myself. It’s easy for a non-specialist and it’s often surprising and amusing. But I don’t care for vuvuzelas – why tens of thousands of people want to make continuous farting noises is something I don’t understand.

    [(myl) In the post that I wrote about this last year, I quoted a South African page as providing this not-very-helpful information:

    There’s uncertainty on the origin of the word “vuvuzela”. Some say it comes from the isiZulu for – wait for it – “making noise”. Others say it’s from township slang related to the word “shower”, because it “showers people with music” – or, more prosaically, looks a little like a shower head.

    Some other sites are less uncertain, though no more authoritative, asserting confidently vuvuzela is Zulu for “to make a loud noise”.

    The dictionary at offers entries for vuvu “ideo. of swelling up”, -vuvukala “swell; swell up” and -vevezela “quiver; shiver; tremble”, among other perhaps-relevant things, but no vuvuzela. Can someone who knows isiZulu comment?]

    LH again: Obviously, if anyone knows anything about the Zulu formation and/or etymology, I’m all ears.

  10. Re vuvuzela: I wonder if isiZulu has a word for shivaree/charivari and, if so, whether it might resemble vuvuzela. (I’m pretty sure hardZulu has such a word.)

  11. I just checked my English/Zulu dictionary and there’s no entry for charivari (which of course isn’t surprising). But I looked in the Zulu-English half and found that the third meaning of vuvu (isivuvu, pl. izivuvu) is ‘bull-roarer.’ How come that’s gone unnoticed? I suspect it’s not a coincidence.

  12. Hat shoots! And scores!
    [*100,000 bull-roarers go wild*]

  13. “(I’m pretty sure hardZulu has such a word.)”
    Sure enough! ‘V!uv!uzela”

  14. OK, what is hardZulu? Is this a joke I don’t understand?

  15. isi = easy

  16. Is there, or would there be, a pronunciation difference between twij & twee?
    Yes. “ee” -> [e]; “ij” -> [EI] (in good old ASCII IPA).

  17. When Günter Grass’s The Diary of a Snail came out in English translation in 1976, my parents and I all read it. I was at the time home from college doing my Year of Moping. At the dinner table, my father (born in America) wanted to know why the hero was called Doubt in the English version; after all, character’s names aren’t usually translated. My mother (native German and Germanist) replied: “Because Zweifel is an impossible name in German; it would be like being named Twivvle in English!”.
    I suppose the connection between ‘two’ and ‘doubt’ is that when you are in doubt, you are in two minds, and so likewise doubt < dubitare < duo.

  18. Bullroarer! Excellent. Bullroarers were very important in male initiation ceremonies in the part of PNG where I did fieldwork (Morobe Province). But there they were slats of wood twirled on a string, a certain danger to face and limbs as well as eardrums if they were as common as vuvuzelas at the South African World Cup. The twirling bullroarers made a woo-woo-woo sound rather than a steady one-note.

  19. Thank you, Des. i was hoping you would read that question.

  20. Am I really the closest thing to a Dutch-speaker around here? The responsibility is terrifying, not least with a kronprinsessweddning scheduled for this weekend…

  21. But it’s not a Dutch kroonprinses that’s getting married (they haven’t had one since Beatrix, who only produced strapping sons).
    I really should have answered AJP’s question, I was just too lazy to look up the relevant symbols for the different sounds, sorry.

  22. If the first child is a son there will be no kronprinsess in that generation, of course.
    And I was a watcher of Scandiwegian royalty long before I got sidetracked into a passing zwamp.

  23. Paul G. Hunt (goodnewsfortheinsane) says

    Also note that “twijfelaar” (one that doubts, vacillates) is modern Dutch for a queen-size bed (in between single and double).

  24. marie-lucie says

    Is that what a queen-size bed is in the Netherlands? Made for a single large person? Across the Atlantic it is in between a double and a king-size – for two largish persons.

  25. I thought for sure someone would at least suggest a possible connection with the German zwischen, even if it not related. Plus I just like the way the word sounds.

  26. marie-lucie says

    a possible connection with the German zwischen
    The words are indeed related. English and Dutch words starting with tw- (as in English two, twin, twine, twist and the -tween in between) are related to German words in zw-, such as zwei, zweifel, zwischen, etc. Twine and twist may not seem obvious, but they refer to a way of putting two threads together to make a type of string.

  27. Also twill, hence tweel and tweed.

  28. marie-lucie says

    Yes, there are other words, but I don’t have a list in my head.

  29. Twine and twist may not seem obvious, but they refer to a way of putting two threads together to make a type of string.
    “No more twist” is the note that the mice leave for the tailor, near the end of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor Of Gloucester. (The tailor being very ill the mice sew a suit for his client, the mayor — all except for the stitching of one buttonhole which is unfinished). The Tailor Of Gloucester is said to be based on a real incident.

  30. marie-lucie says

    A special thread is used for suit and coat buttons and buttonholes, which get more wear and tear than regular seams.

  31. Vuvuzela is a Tsotsitaal Word – reference: Tsotsitaal

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